My journey has been difficult, but it’s made me who I am today. I want to share a little bit of that with you in the next few minutes.
To begin, I’d like to share a little about my childhood. I grew up in a family with five brothers and three sisters. I was the fourth oldest. My mother battled depression and anxiety. This caused her to lash out at us for no reason. She couldn’t hold a job or take care of us or our home, and the money my father earned wasn’t nearly enough to support all of us. My older siblings became responsible for all the household chores, but as soon as they could, they left the home. So, I became the responsible “adult” in our home when I was only 14 years old. Even though I was still a child myself, I was determined not to let social services to take my younger brothers and sisters. I did the laundry, walked them to school, made their food, and was there for them emotionally.
Because of all my responsibilities, I had to quit high school when I was only 16. But I still planned to graduate somehow, even if it meant not crossing the stage with my friends. So, I enrolled in independent study. I was determined to finish high school. Then I met a boy. (You can probably guess this next part.) At the age of 17, I became pregnant, and nine months later, gave birth to a little boy, Matthew.
During those nine months, had to raise my child on my own, without a job, without a support network, wondering all the time when the electricity or gas was going to be disconnected. I knew I HAD to change my life. But how? Luckily for me, El Nido was there.
My independent studies teacher, Mrs. Becker, referred me to the FamilySource Center. When I arrived there, I was broke – financially and emotionally. The case managers at El Nido helped me take control over my life. They enrolled me in an eight-session program where I learned how to envision a positive future and discussed the actions, I needed to take to achieve success. It helped me create a reproductive life plan, see motherhood as an identity strength, and gave me hope for a successful future. This El Nido program not only helped me build a plan for success, but also gave me a sense of community and support. I felt safe, cared for, and welcomed by all the El Nido staff. It helped me break away from my own stigma about becoming a teen parent and stop the cycle of abuse I learned growing up.
Looking back now, I have the perspective to see that it was almost like a feeling of culture shock when I arrived at El Nido and began to recognize the mental and emotional abuse that had been part of my life for years. Being able to move beyond that, and gain an education, and grow, was life changing. That combination of breaking the cycle of abuse and being able to pursue my education was the turning point of my life.
So much has changed from when I first walked in the doors of El Nido. Matthew is 9 now and together we are marching into the future. I received my high school diploma in 2013 and attended Glendale Community College where I received my A.A in Sociology in 2019. I transferred to Cal State LA, and I’m set to graduate in June 2022 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Rehabilitation Services and a Veteran Service Certificate. I am currently working as a community integrator specialist for people with disabilities at a nonprofit called Campbell Center in Glendale. As a community integrator I specialize in ensuring that clients with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a positive transition into employment, independent living, and community activities. This year I was nominated Co-Chair of El Nido Family Center Alumni Association and have moved up to Community Integration Coordinator at The Campbell Center.
Just a little about the ENFC Alumni Association: Three former El Nido Family Centers clients founded this group to empower young adults and families to reach their full potential by sharing their experiences, and providing support, guidance, and advocacy. I’m a testimony of their dedication. Being a part of this committee has helped me develop the courage to break down many barriers in my life, and to develop skills and experience that will move me forward and anchor me as I navigate my roles at work, at home, and in my community.
It feels a little bit surreal to be up here telling you about my successes. I am now in position to open doors for others that were once opened to me.
I want to close by saying that I don’t believe my mother was or is a bad person. Looking back, I know now that she didn’t have the resources or the capacity to deal with her mental and emotional challenges. Without the support I got from El Nido, I could have been the same type of mother – overwhelmed by life and without any of the skills, knowledge, or resources to be successful. The only difference between her and me is that El Nido gave me the tools needed to overcome the hardships in my life.
In reflecting on my milestones, I now realize that yes, I was inspired by my past case managers to develop into someone who can make a difference. More recently, I realized that for a lot of my younger life, I was trying to figure out my mom, and what made her do the things she did. I was haunted by her. At various points in the last few years, I’ve tried to apply what I’ve learned to our relationship. I haven’t had contact with her in two years, but if she ever plans to seek the kind of support that I sought, I will be there. Her hardships and the traumas that came from it are valid. I understand that much now, but it is programs like El Nido’s that make a difference. One thing about being a client is that growth for us is painful as much as it is beautiful. The help is there and available if you ask and are open to receiving it.